New government statistics have revealed there were 410 confirmed excess winter deaths in Northumberland during 2014/15, an increase of 356 per cent from the previous year.
The sharp increase has been largely attributed to the failure of the flu vaccine which experts say was only effective in one in three cases.
Provisional figures for last winter (2015/16) show a drop in the number of winter deaths but there were still 1,300 recorded in the North East.
However, if you remove the anomaly of the 2014/15 figures, which were skewed by high number of flu related deaths, the 2015/16 deaths are still nearly 40 per cent higher than the number recorded in 2013/14.
A key contributing factor in these deaths is the high number of people in the UK still living in cold homes with rural parts of the country, such as Northumberland, disproportionally affected because houses are typically older with poorer insulation.
Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC, the trade body for the oil heating industry, said: “Every year a significant number of people die unnecessarily as a result of living in a cold home over the winter.
“The shocking increase in the number of excess winter deaths seen over the past two years shows there is still much more that needs to be done to help keep vulnerable people warm.”
He added: “Fortunately, the 23,000 households in Northumberland who use oil to heat their homes are continuing to enjoy the cheapest fuel bills by far of all the main heating fuels, so they can afford to keep their heating on for longer this winter. However, during this expensive time of year, many households may still be tempted to turn down their thermostats to save money but by doing so they could be putting their health at risk.”
The total number of excess winter deaths across the UK as a whole during 2014/15 was 43,850, the highest level seen in over 15 years.
Excess winter deaths are defined as the difference between the number of deaths in the winter months (December to March) compared with the previous (August to November) and following (April to July) three months.
OFTEC is offering advice to households on keeping warm over the winter months:
· Ensure your main room is heated to a least 21C and keep other regularly used rooms to at least 18C – low temperatures increase the risk of flu and respiratory problems.
· Monitor and adjust the timers on your heating controls as the weather changes – you may also want to consider upgrading your system controls.
· Turn off radiators in rooms you are not using. Also ensure items such as furniture are not blocking the heat from radiators in your main rooms.
· Have your boiler serviced by a registered OFTEC technician. They will check the system is working correctly, helping to avoid any breakdowns over winter.